Helen Martin: Just try growing old disgracefully

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NO-ONE places much credence on headline- grabbing surveys these days, not least because such scant quantitative info as they might offer is usually manipulated by whoever commissioned it to say exactly what they want to say, regardless of the numbers.

The alleged “results” say more about whoever initiated the research than those who filled in the responses.

So it was with some alarm that I read the results of a recent survey by Scottish Widows. It drew the conclusion that Britain was awash with “Peter Pans”, because nearly 50 per cent of young people were “delaying” the age at which they were able to take on “the roles and responsibilities of adulthood” until they were 25. Twenty five? They’re having a laugh.

It reminded me of when I was five years old and thought 12 was ancient. Who on earth would consider 25 a time to be grown up and mature?

It all depends on what you mean by “grown-up”, a state I believe I may have reached round about the age of 45. Until then I had rotten taste in men, an awkward tendency to say exactly what I thought (believe me, I am now positively restrained by comparison) and a rather naïve belief in natural justice and karma . . . all childish traits.

My taste improved, I learned to keep my mouth shut occasionally, and it eventually dawned on me that what goes around doesn’t necessarily come around, baddies often get away with it, and luck often belongs to the most horrible people. That’s what growing up does for you.

The point of the survey (since it was run by a financial firm) was to attempt to draw some spurious link between financial success, stability or responsibility and maturity . . . which I have to say doesn’t actually exist.

When I was 25 or 26 the world was a different place.

I was exceptionally well-paid with the equivalent of a blank cheque every week on which to draw my “legitimate” expenses. I was paying great dollops of money into a pension scheme, owned the lower half of a large Victorian villa in a “desirable” area and thus had a huge but easily-affordable mortgage, and zoomed about in a sports car when I wasn’t jetting around the world on exotic holidays. I worked hard, played hard and was well rewarded. I knew about money and financial responsibility. And I was about as mature as a tadpole.

Maturity doesn’t come with financial success and security any more than it comes with struggling to meet the gas bill. It comes through a variety of life experiences and to some – like me – later than others.

For young people today (that includes anyone under 30) the idea of being “young and carefree” and just enjoying themselves, their burgeoning careers, their independence and their freedom, is totally overshadowed by the need to balance the books and earn as much money as they can, precisely because there’s so little of it about.

Maturity is not just handling a mortgage, it’s knowing when you can’t afford one.

When I was young, the old grumpies moaned about how hard they had it and what an easy life we had, with no money worries and the freedom we enjoyed already bought and paid for by previous generations who fought in wars.

Now we are the old grumpies. But we seem to have forgotten how hard the young have it, how little money they have in comparison to the plentiful jobs and riches of our day and that, again, it’s young men who are dying in wars, something our generation never had to face. If they were being truthful, very few people over the age of 50 would want to be young again today.

So I salute the 50 per cent of youngsters who don’t feel grown-up by 25 and urge them to set the bar even higher at 30 or 35.

I fear for the others who think they are already grown-up and have nothing much more to learn, in the same way that I fear for ten-year-old girls who wear sexy clothes, make-up and have already started saving for the boob job they think they might want at 16. Young people today are encouraged to get too old, too grown-up, too quickly.

Maybe when they get to middle age, a time when my lot were just beginning to settle down and recognise maturity was knocking on our door, they will be going through a mid-life crisis, trying to recapture the youth they missed. And who could blame them?

First on the list

PETER McColl, the new Rector of Edinburgh University, has got off to a good start by demanding a resolution to the scandal of student accommodation.

The best of it in Masson House is being rented out commercially to guests attending conferences, thus displacing more than 60 first years who have to be billeted out to the Queen Margaret University campus at Musselburgh.

Guests can pay to stay anywhere. Students, especially new-starts who have never lived away from home before, come first.